As I have written before, it is true that New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country, actually does have bears. In fact, many would say that the Garden State’s estimated black bear population of 3,300 is too high, leading to the state’s Fish and Game Council to authorize a bear hunt this year — the first in thirty years.
The weeklong hunt, which is scheduled to take place in December, is decidedly a red-hot topic in the state, with the opponents of the hunt still optimistic that they can convince the Governor to call it off. To press their point, this weekend, more than 200 “bear advocates” gathered in front of the Governor McGreevey’s residence to protest the hunt and what they perceive as the Governor’s having broken his campaign promise that, if elected, there would be no bear hunt in New Jersey during his administration.
One protestor wore a sign on which was a large copy of a letter that Mr. McGreevey (then-candidate McGreevey) had written three years ago to the then-Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, urging her to call off the hunt. The letter argued that “authorizing the hunting and killing of these animals is inconsistent with the state’s commitment to protecting the environment and preserving open space for the benefit of all living creatures.” Governor Whitman ultimately did call off the hunt.
The anti-hunt people view Governor McGreevey’s current position on the hunt as a “flip-flop,” and some were collecting pairs of flip-flop shoes to be delivered to the Governor’s office in Trenton. (Note: The term “flip-flop” had been heretofore reserved for a former Governor of New Jersey, “Flip-Flop Florio,” whom many viewed as having broken a campaign promise regarding taxes.)
The Governor’s press secretary stated that the Governor has not changed his position and that he still personally opposes the idea of a bear hunt, “but the facts have changed since three years ago,” citing the increases in the bear population, the number of nuisance complaints and more frequent interactions with people that were characterized as “near misses.”
Lynda Smith, director of the Bear Education and Resource Group disagrees, urging that the situation is no worse now than it was three years ago and that there were, in fact, fewer “near misses” this year than before. Smith accused the Governor of “bowing to the pressure from the hunters.”
Despite the protests, the state is continuing to issue the promised 10,000 applications for permits, with the goal of reducing the population by 500 bears. Thus far, not nearly as many people as had been expected have sought the permits, which require the attendance of a three-hour seminar on bears. Some speculate that the current absence of a rush to obtain the permits is because the bear hunt will take place during the state’s traditional deer season, and many hunters will want to concentrate on deer hunting.
I am not a hunter, and bears don’t frequent the part of the state where I live, so I won’t be lining up for a permit. However, I can sympathize with those in the state whose back yards are increasingly being visited by bears.
As I said before, I do not pretend to know a satisfactory way to reduce the bear population other than by permitting the hunt. Unfortunately, the bear advocates have not offered a satisfactory alternative either.
So, for now, the hunt is on.